Press Release

Legislators & advocates highlight major black lung legislation & fight back against attacks on new silica dust rule

For immediate release
December 13, 2023

Media Contact:
Trey Pollard – – 202-904-9187

Watch Today’s Press Conference

COAL COUNTRY — This afternoon, lawmakers and advocates for miners with black lung called on Congress to pass major legislation during a virtual press conference. Leaders from the National Black Lung Association, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and Appalachian Voices were joined by U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey (D-Ky.), who announced the introduction of the Relief for Survivors of Miners Act of 2023, which would ease the process for families of deceased miners to apply for black lung benefits, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a lead sponsor for the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act, which would help miners access the benefits they deserve.

“If you go out and do your job every day to power the nation and give us a standard of living that is going to be the envy of the world, then we’re going to help you. Too often that promise has not been kept by the Federal government,” said Casey. “The legislation that Representative McGarvey and I are working on will be an effort to fulfill our promise to coal miners.”

Thousands of miners across the country rely on black lung benefits to provide a lifeline after they have to stop working in the mines. Casey’s Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act helps solve a number of the problems miners face in accessing and using these benefits. Among other provisions, the bill ensures miners have representation through the claims process, makes changes so that benefits are calculated based on the actual cost of living and inflation, and ensures coal company CEOs pay miners what they’re owed by requiring the Department of Labor to develop new, stronger requirements for coal companies to cover their own black lung liabilities instead of using bankruptcy as a shield. In addition, the bill would provide new resources to assist miners in getting the medical evidence they are required to have to prove they have black lung.

“This is a moral imperative. And for the people that say they support our coal miners: they need to get on board with these efforts to truly give the survivors of these coal miners the benefits that were earned,” said McGarvey. “The premise of this bill is simple: we’ve got to keep our promise. We’ve got to make it easier, not harder, for these families to get the benefits that they deserve.”

Introduced today, McGarvey’s Relief for Survivors of Miners Act helps address other major shortcomings in the current system which keep coal miners’ families from the benefits they deserve. When a coal miner passes away, surviving dependents can apply to receive the monthly compensation after the miner’s death. But filing for benefits is complex and burdensome, especially when a spouse or other dependent is coping with the loss of a loved one. This legislation improves access to legal representation for miners and survivors of miners to ensure that individuals are not unable to secure benefits due to a lack of financial resources. In addition, the bill would move the burden of proving a miner’s death was the cause of black lung away from surviving spouses and instead requires coal companies to prove black lung had no role in a death before disqualifying anyone from benefits.

“This has been a passion of mine for years,” said Vonda Robinson, Vice President of the National Black Lung Association, who helped develop the Relief for Survivors of Miners legislation after conversations with families of coal miners. “I am working with 15 widows in Southwest Virginia, and to hear their experiences of losing their husbands alone, but also when they get their benefits taken away, it breaks their heart.”

At the same time, House Republicans recently approved by voice vote an amendment to appropriations legislation for the Department of Labor that would effectively prohibit the implementation of the new silica dust standard — a crucial safeguard that would curb the amount of deadly silica dust miners can be exposed to. While that safeguard is still in draft form with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, House Republicans tacked on a dangerous amendment authored by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) that would strip funding from any effort to implement or enforce the final rule. Rep. Perry has faced significant pushback on this move from miners and allies in recent weeks.

“The amendment is extremely disappointing,” said Quenton King, Federal Legislative Specialist at Appalachian Voices. “Thousands of coal miners, and other miners, will be subject to continued risk of black lung disease if this rule can’t be enforced. Even a one year delay is too long to wait, after how long miners and their families have needed such a rule to protect them from deadly silica dust. MSHA hasn’t even finished reviewing comments before Rep. Perry’s attempt to block the rule.”

The silica standard for coal miners had previously not been updated since 1985. In the time period since then, mining methods have changed as larger, more accessible coal seams have become exhausted. Miners now must cut through more sandstone, leading to more exposure to silica dust that is 20 times more toxic than coal dust and causes the most severe forms of black lung even after fewer years of exposure. Health experts and government bodies have developed scientific evidence and repeatedly concluded that this silica dust exposure is a major cause of the black lung epidemic and that the outdated MSHA silica standard was woefully ineffective at protecting miners from this threat. Now, in Central Appalachia, one in five tenured miners here has black lung disease and one in 20 has the most severe and totally disabling form of black lung.



Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube